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With an interesting story and good atmospheric settings, "Ministry of Fear"
is a good film noir that most fans of the genre should find worth watching.
Ray Milland is very good as a man battling a recent personal tragedy, who
must then also try to sort out a series of mysterious and hazardous events
in which he has suddenly become involved.
There are a lot of characters, and the story gets a bit complicated at times, making use of the W.W.II setting while introducing some quirky elements which generally come across pretty well. There are also a couple of good surprises, and for most of the way you have to guess along with Milland's character as to what will happen next. As with most such films, you must occasionally suspend disbelief, but that does not really detract from the atmosphere and tension.
If you enjoy film noir and/or thrillers, give this one a try. It's not one of the best of its genre, but it moves quickly and works well, at least as light entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story comes hazily through a so-so screenplay helped by astute direction and great cinematography. The film opens on a ticking clock in a dark room and then to Ray Milland sitting at a table. Tick tock tick tock. He's waiting for 12:00 when he will be released from an asylum where he has been for two years for the mercy killing of his terminal wife. Set in war-time London, but made in Hollywood, there are some unlikely characters. Nonetheless, the basic spy caper story line is well presented in numerous marvelous scenes. The aforementioned ticking clock in the dark room, the fake blind man on the train, the seance, the apartment with the modern art and the pistol in the handbag, the exploding suitcase, Dan Duryea dialing a phone number on a radial phone with the biggest, sharpest pair of scissors you're likely to ever see, the fatal gun shot through the closed door and the light coming through the bullet hole, the shootout on the roof....it just goes on. I'm sure it strays from Greene's novel, but it merits watching anyway for Milland and for the pure cinematic quality that is evident from beginning to end.
In an excellent suspense, Stephen Neale (as played by Ray Milland) finds himself in one precarious situation after another. His problems are compounded by the fact that he has just been released from an asylum and is warned upon his leaving not to get involved with the police again, for "a second charge would not be easy." Inadvertently, he does and it isn't! Very funny role played by Erskine Sandford as Mr. Rennitt, the detective who indicates the his private investigating is "a respectable business with a tradition. I'm not Sherlock Holmes." Anyone who enjoyed "The Man Who Knew Too Much" will find this film spellbinding. The last few lines of the movie make viewing a good movie even more fun.
Although the script may have been a little uneven (and I have no idea how it relates to the book by Graham Greene), but for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning this was some good noir fun. Hints of Hitchcock lent a creepiness to the atmosphere. Things were also somewhat unpredictable, which is important for any mystery. Nicely done.
Ray Milland as Stephen Neale, a person that has just been released from a mental hospital has no idea of what fate has for him. Neale wants to return to England but has time to stop at a small town festival. He wins a cake after the psychic tells him what the weight of it is. Suddenly another man arrives and wants the cake because it seems that he and not Neale was meant for it. A spy ring is operating during WWII and supplying information for the Nazis. Neale takes a train and a blind man appears and rides with him. Unbeknown to Neale, this man is actually a spy and is not blind. Later on, there are false leads for Neale, a murder or murders depending on who Neale speaks to. Finally there are two strange woman, spies or innocent dupes? A fine performance from Milland and well worth the time to watch in this excellent film.
If you like Hitchcock's "39 Steps" or "The Man Who Knew Too Much", you're
likely to enjoy this one, too. It's weakness, in comparison to "39 Steps"
lies in a frustratingly shallow treatment of the characters. Development of
the relationship between the protagonist Neale and the very photogenic
Fraeulein Hilfe is disappointingly sketchy - and their unwavering trust in
each other - and love - essentially instantaneous, not gradually won through
tension, doubt and adversity. And our doubts concerning Neale's time in
prison for murder are defused all too quickly, assuring us he's no
"Stagefright" personality. I can't help thinking Lang attempted to emulate
"39 Steps". The result's a fun film, with wonderful close-ups of a very
young Millan and his girl, but of "thinner fabric". As in "39" or "North by
Northwest", the plot doesn't resist much scrutiny - the bad guys' judgment
pretty lame. The fun lies in character eccentricities, great photography,
the creation of an artificial universe, etc. Personally, I find "Man Who
Knew Too Much" too long, impossible to sit through a second time, excessive
in several ways - overacted, over-dramatized; this film, like "39" or "North
by Northwest", I have no problem watching again and again.
Fritz Lang was responsible for a couple of true German originals, including
the fantasy "Metropolis" and the early talkie, "M". He was pretty popular.
He claims at one point he was invited to Goebel's office and asked to lead
the film department at the Ministry of Propaganda. "What could I say? I
said, 'I'm tickled pink, Sir.'" He and his family were on the next
available transit out of Germany.
He was a prime catch for Hollywood, where he as known for strutting around in riding breeches and boots, a monacle in his eye, shouting instructions through a megaphone. I've never found his American movies actually gripping, although always interesting in some way or other. They are unmistakably Langian if you know what to look for. His thematic use of objects like clocks. Or, here, a nicely done rainy shot of a tailor's shop in London. A scene in which a heavy in a dark room shouts to a gun wielding woman, "You shouldn't shoot your own brother." The heavy then flings open the door to the bright hallway, dashes out and slams the door behind him. A shot immediately rings out and the otherwise dark screen now shows a tiny punctuation point of light from the hallway illuminating the bullet hole in the door. And another scene near the beginning in which Ray Milland invites the other passenger in his train compartment to have a piece of cake. The queer-looking stranger thanks him, takes the cake box, reaches in and slowly begins crumbling the cake in his hand, sifting through it, while Milland stares in amazement.
But it's a pretty unimaginative plot, rather routine, and neither Lang nor the performers bring much extra to it. The narrative is -- I want to say this without seeming to ridicule it. It's "heavy handed?" Maybe that's it. I'm doing the best I can to avoid "Teutonic." A couple of changes in the dialogue and you wouldn't have too much trouble getting rid of Milland and putting Rathbone and Bruce in his place. "Sherlock Holmes and the Cake of Death." Or, with a little more effort, it could become the peg for a Bob Hope comedy. "My Favorite Recipe."
I did like Dan Duryea though, the phony scuzzbag. He fakes being shot once, then gets it the second time while fondling a pair of gigantic scissors. Dan Duryea dies double deaths. Those scissors must have been Lang's idea because he used them more than once as weapons. He seemed to like them. He seems to have liked Duryea too because he used him twice more.
It's not his best American film but it's above average for the genre. And it's worth seeing if only because Lang himself directed it. It's good enough that you're not likely to be bored by it.
What a team! Graham Greene and Fritz Lang. What an actor! Ray Milland.
What a movie! This one will stay with you for awhile. Though Greene did
better work, i.e his masterpiece the screenplay for "The Third Man,"
and Lang did better work, "Metropolis, "M," "Fury." Together they make
"Ministry of Fear" sizzle.
Today just about any movie from the 40's and 50's shot in black and white with darkness, rain, or shadows is labeled film noir. I don't really know if "Ministry of Fear" is a film noir as such but I do know it's great film making, somewhat along the lines of Hitchcock's "39 Steps." Ray Milland as Stephen Neale is mistaken for a go between espionage agent, called Cost or Travers depending on the circumstances, played to perfection by Dan Duryea. Neale guesses the weight of a cake as foretold by a fortune teller. Obviously the cake is valuable because immediately upon realizing their mistake the spy ring sets out to frame and kill Neale to retrieve the tasty morsel. Not to be missed is an exciting sequence aboard a train involving an alleged blind man. The rest of the movie filled with suspense, mystery, and intrigue involves Neal teaming with Carla Hilfe (Marjorie Reynolds--later of television's "Life of Riley" fame) and her brother to catch the culprits and discover what it's all about. Gradually Neal comes to suspect even Carla herself though by this time he's fallen madly in love with her. The feeling seems to be mutual. The denouement is a showdown between Neal and the spy ring which is exciting and a logical way to wrap up the movie.
Ray Milland walks off with the show even though the rest of the cast gives him able support. It's easy to see that Ray Milland was well on his way to winning the Oscar the very next year for his standout performance in Billy Wilder's "Lost Weekend." It was just a matter of time before his acting talent would be formally recognized. It's a good thing "Lost Weekend" came around for Milland for he never again played a role that so suited his abilities as an actor, though he still had many years ahead of him to be on the big screen.
The script is a witty one with many good lines. Though Lang's direction is good there are a few boring parts following the frame-up. A few more blind man type scenes would have helped tremendously. Still a very good espionage thriller of the old school with a title that reaches out and grabs you to make you want to see what the "Ministry of Fear" is all about.
Ray Milland is brilliant in this story of a man whose troubles just begin when he is released from an asylum. The suspense is so thick it can be cut with a knife and the supporting cast is excellent in this innocent-man-caught-up-in-espionage classic. The photographic shadings are also just right. And remember, the cake is made with real eggs.
During the war years, there were quite a few propaganda
films--particularly ones about Nazi spies. While many of them become
pretty difficult to distinguish from the others, this one stands out as
a well made and effective film that will hold your interest.
Ray Milland plays a man who had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems. When he stumbles upon a Nazi spy ring, no one believes him despite his best efforts. So, after receiving no help, he is forced to take matters into his own hands for the good of the free world.
The acting and writing are first rate and the film doesn't get mired down in clichés. By the way, Alan Napier ("Alfred the Butler" from BATMAN) plays one of the baddies!
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